Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was setting up to be another David Brabham highlight reel, just like last week's wild Lime Rock Park overall victory, when he grabbed the lead with 90 seconds left in the race.
The popular Aussie racer diced his way through heavy late-race traffic with his bright green, blue and black No. 9 Patrón Highcroft Acura ARX-01b prototype sports car and pressured Romain Dumas for the last 15 minutes of the two-hour, 45-minute feature event at the picturesque 2.25-mile road course near Mansfield, Ohio.
With late-race passes on Dumas at Long Beach and Timo Bernhard, Dumas' teammate, at Lime Rock, Brabham was poised to score his third LMP2 class win in hot and humid conditions Saturday. Brabham, the only ALMS driver to ever win in all four racing divisions, dodged his Acura machine inside and outside, for a way past Dumas' Penske Porsche.
But Brabham, who co-drove with veteran Scott Sharp, had to settle for second this time around, losing at the checkered flag by just .609 seconds. The win for the Penske was its third consecutive class title at Mid-Ohio.
The Patrón Highcroft team wasn't the only Acura squad on the podium Saturday in the 111 lap endurance event as the duo of Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz finally shook off some tough racing luck to bring the No. 15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b to third in the LMP2 division. The Lowe's car experienced early handling troubles before Fernandez, a two-time Mid-Ohio winner in open-wheel and sports car competition, clocked some sizzling lap times to close in on Bernhard and Brabham at the finish. The Lowe's team repeated their third-place finish of a year ago at Mid-Ohio.
Early contact with a lapped car hurt the No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b machine's chance for the Andretti Green team to score a podium finish Saturday. Newcomer Rafael Matos ran well early before his car hit one of Aston Martin GT-2 cars. Matos was forced to pit and the team had to replace front suspension pieces. Le Mans veteran Franck Montagny drove hard to the finish, despite an eight-lap deficit to bring the XM Acura to seventh in the LMP2 category.
The No. 66 Panasonic ELS Sound de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b car, which started from the pole position with team owner and former Indy 500 champion Gil de Ferran at the wheel, led the LMP2 class from the start to Lap 40. De Ferran then jumped from the cockpit and handed the driving chores to young Frenchman Simon Pagenaud. The 24-year old star drove brilliantly in the stint before pitting on Lap 68.
While the de Ferran team changed four Michelin tires and refueled the car, a fire broke out in the team's pit area. Pagenaud stopped immediately and jumped from the cockpit. The ALMS safety team was on site quickly to extinguish the flames. However, some crew members sustained injuries in the incident. The team's race was concluded immediately due to the fire.
One crew member was transported to Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus for treatment.
Acura Sports Car Challenge (LMP2 Class)
1. Penske Porsche No. 7
2. PATRÓN HIGHCROFT ACURA ARX-01b No. 9
3. LOWE'S FERNANDEZ ACURA ARX-01b No. 15
7. ANDRETTI GREEN XM ACURA ARX-01b No. 26
9. DE FERRAN PANASONIC ACURA ARX-01b No. 66
UPCOMING ALMS RACE:
Event: Generac 500
Track: Road America
Elkhart Lake, Wis (4 miles)
Date: Saturday, Aug. 9, 2008, 4 p.m. (CDT)
Distance: 4 Hours
TV: SPEED-TV, Aug. 10, 2 p.m. EDT
DAVID BRABHAM (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "I just had to keep pushing and wait for an opportunity to pass the Penske Porsche. It was a little like last week in Lime Rock. There were a couple of close calls and I was driving the wheels off of the Patrón Highcroft Acura today. The car was really hooked up at the end of the race and could close on the Penskes. It is tougher to pass here than at Lime Rock, actually. So I was just trying to peek my car's nose inside for any way to pass [Romain] Dumas at the end. We had a little grip problem early in my stint, but then we fixed the grip level for my final pit stop. After that, I had the fastest car on the track. I think we showed the Penskes that we can race right with them."
SCOTT SHARP (#9 Patrón Highcroft Racing Acura ARX- 01b): "That was great racing today. It is what the American Le Mans Series is all about. We came back from a little problem to lose by a few feet. I was able to race with Gil [de Ferran] early in the race and then David [Brabham] just charged towards the lead. We just missed out on another win. But it was exciting, and the Patrón Highcroft team is a contender at any track now. It was a great job by the crew and David drove the wheels off the No. 9 again. He almost pulled it off."
LUIS DIAZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX-01b): "At the beginning of the race, the Lowe's Acura wasn't as good as we would have liked. We were able to come back and finally got back on the podium. We have had many little problems in the first part of the year. This finish feels good. We still want to win, but now we feel we were moving forward with our Lowe's team. We are looking forward to Road America in a few weeks."
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#15 Lowe's Fernandez Acura ARX- 01b): "I was having a little trouble early in my run, like Luis was having. The Lowe's Acura was sliding and pushing in the corners. But at the end of the race, the car felt very good and I was able to close in on the leaders. I got past David [Brabham] and he got me back and then I got by the No. 6 Penske Porsche for third. Actually, we were closing on the leaders late, too, but ran out of laps. This is a good result for us after the tough luck we have experienced in the first half of the season."
FRANCK MONTAGNY (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "I am 100 percent certain we had the car to win today. I am absolutely sure. But, the car was a mess after the crash, so I treated the rest of the race like it was a test. I still pushed like I do when I'm racing and tried to do my best. But, it was quite difficult. Two hours in the car and it was hot. So, it's not easy. You don't have the same motivation because you're not fighting for places. It is difficult to drive around for many laps when you want to race to win."
RAFAEL MATOS (#26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01b): "I came up to lap one of the Aston Martins, which was the first car I was going to lap. I wasn't pushing at all. I was side-by-side with him and he just turned into me. I don't know if he didn't see me or what. It's just very frustrating for the XM Acura guys and everybody at Andretti Green. We were hoping for a good result and I think we had a good shot at a podium finish or better."
GIL De FERRAN (#66 Panasonic ELS Surround Acura ARX-01b, after the pit fire involving his de Ferran Motorsports crew): "It was an unfortunate situation with a pit fire. We had a problem with the unplugging of the fuel hose and the car caught on fire. It is tough day for our team since we were running very strong. Simon [Pagenaud] was doing a great job and pressuring for the lead. But that is not important right now. We are concerned for our team people. We are a close-knit organization but very young as a group. So something like this [incident] is very difficult for everyone at de Ferran Motorsports."